What is behind an organic label?


  1. What is organic agriculture?
  2. Where can I get information about consumption and prices of organic commodities?
  3. Is there any kind of economic help for conversion into organic agriculture?
  4. Where can I get information on organic agriculture methods and management systems?
  5. Can organic farmers produce enough food for everybody?
  6. What are the environmental benefits of organic agriculture?
  7. Why is organic food more expensive than conventional food?
  8. Does the consumption of organic food increase exposure to biological contaminants?
  9. What is behind an organic label?
  10. What are certified organic products?

What is behind an organic label?

The label. An organic label indicates that a product has been certified against specific organic standards. The label carries the name of the certification body and the standards with which it complies, (e.g. EU 2092/91). To the informed consumer, this label can function as a guide. Certification bodies evaluate operations according to different organic standards and can be formally recognized by more than one authoritative body. The label of a given certification body, therefore, informs the consumer on the type of standards complied with during production and processing as well as on the type of recognition granted to the certification body. Many certification bodies operate worldwide, most of which are private and originate in developed countries.

International voluntary standards. At the international level the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission (the inter-governmental body that sets standards for all foods) has produced international guidelines for Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Foods to guide producers and to protect consumers against deception and fraud. These guidelines have been agreed upon by all member states of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The private sector's equivalent to the Codex Alimentarius guidelines is the International Basic Standards for Organic Production and Processing, created by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements - IFOAM. Codex Alimentarius and IFOAM guidelines include accepted management principles for the production of plants, livestock, bees and their products (IFOAM makes provisions also for fibres, aquaculture and non-wood forest products); for handling, storage, processing, packaging and transportation of products, and a list of substances permitted in the production and processing of organic foods. These guidelines are regularly reviewed, particularly the criteria for permitted substances and the process by which inspection is carried out and certification held.

National mandatory standards. The Codex Alimentarius and IFOAM guidelines are minimum standards for organic agriculture, intended to guide governments and private certification bodies in standard setting. As such, they can be considered as standards for standards. Governments can use these texts to develop national organic agriculture programmes which are often more detailed as they respond to specific country needs. Most national standards (e.g. EU countries, Japan, Argentina, India, Tunisia, USA), are specified in regulations which are legally binding.

Local voluntary standards. In some countries (e.g. Germany), individual certification bodies may produce their own standards which can be more stringent than the regulation in force, usually in response to specific consumer demands. Although these are not legally enforceable, private certifiers may be more restrictive than is required by law.

Accreditation. Accreditation is a procedure by which an authoritative body evaluates and gives formal recognition that a certification programme is in accordance with the standards of the authoritative body. For organic agriculture, certification bodies can apply the voluntary international standards and/or the national mandatory standards and be accredited by the related "authority". At international level, the International Organic Accreditation Service. (IOAS) accredits certification bodies according to IFOAM Accreditation Programme criteria by delivering the "IFOAM Accredited" logo (click here to read more about IFOAM Accreditation Program). IOAS is an independent NGO which ensures global equivalency of certification programmes and attempts to harmonize standards, whilst taking into consideration local differences. It must be noted that membership of IFOAM by certifying bodies does not constitute IOAS accreditation. At national level, governments or national accreditation bodies accredit certification bodies operating in their country, if their country has an organic agriculture legislation. Both private and public bodies adhere to the International Organization for Standardization basic standards for accreditation of certifiers (ISO 65) in addition to their specific requirements.

For further details on national certification bodies, consult your own government. The IFOAM website provides information on becoming a certifying body, together with the IFOAM Basic Standards and Accreditation Criteria.